SOPA/PIPA - what really stunts the growth of the Digital Economy?

The recent furore about SOPA and PIPA has set me thinking afresh about my position on copyright ownership legislation. I myself suffer, albeit in a very small way, from the kind of pirates being targeted by the bills and regularly find my Indian classical arrangement of Silent Night being illegally sold by pirate sites in China and elsewhere.  It’s frustrating but my views on the topic are not simply to create the biggest hammer possible to crush the activity.

What really stunts growth and adoption of the Digital Economy?

There is something wider at work here beyond simply piracy. The short term view, adopted by SOPA, is to instigate moderately Draconian measures impacting the architecture of the internet. My colleague Ari Osur has written an excellent post that clearly outlines how this might affect the world of the Marketer should SOPA/PIPA transpire in its current form. 

A longer term view to the solution is that this piracy is mostly happening in emerging digital economies and that it is informally permissible until they mature.  Joe Karaganis published a seminal report on Media Piracy in 2011 which took a fresh look at the topic with many case studies taken from emerging economies. One quote which sticks out is :

“we have seen little evidence—and indeed few claims—that enforcement efforts to date have had any impact whatsoever on the overall supply of pirated goods. Our work suggests, rather, that piracy has grown dramatically by most measures in the past decade, driven by the exogenous factors described above—high media prices, low local incomes, technological diffusion, and fast-changing consumer and cultural practices.”

In short it’s a pricing problem and the way to stop piracy is to make the products more affordable not to shut out developing markets aggressively.

Media and Rights Holders – Big Fish vs. Small Fish

Media distribution is flattening and the old hierarchies (record labels, film studios) are losing the monopoly in some areas. The large players are the entities that are most able to leverage SOPA right of redress  – the small guy will not be able to petition ISPs/Payment Providers successfully. Further, based on UMG’s heavy handed removal of the MegaUpload video recently there’s no indication that these groups will use their powers wisely. Laws should democratically enable all publishers and copyright owners and not become a vehicle for only the largest players.

Ethics and Morals

Ethical business practice is something that is increasingly under the public microscope in a connected world. Fraud enablers such as payment systems and hosting services should be mandated to have a transparent and scalable complaints and takedown procedure but the SOPA offering isn’t it. The moral compass of business will increasingly be judged by the public and indeed PayPal have recently found themselves on the end of a social media powered backlash due to their blunt approach to mediating in cases of suspected fraud.

Where might this debate go?

I expect the bill will be rejected but the debate will mature.  Future amendments should more loosely couple legislation between the moving parts of DNS management, Search, Advertising  and Payment to allow for a more organic and less Orwellian approach to the problem.  From a systems organisational standpoint legislation that is too tightly coupled together crossing different domains is much less likely to succeed and when it breaks it will do so spectacularly. See Karl E. Weick for more ideas on his principals of organisational coupling.

 

A final thought …

To even the debate how about a blackout day for content providers where The Guardian, New York Times and iTunes all put the ‘Gone Fishing’ sign up on their front doors?

 

What do you think?